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Stop Girdling the Post Office

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Stop Girdling the Post Office

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Yves here. One of the very few silver linings of Covid is that the increased use of “vote by mail” has put a spotlight on the Post Office, and in particular, the concerted and long-standing efforts of Republicans (and some Democrats, witness the profiteering of DiFi’s husband) to enrich their allies via its privatization. The problem is I don’t see evidence that Team Biden has saving the Post Office on its radar.

By Mark Jamison, Retired North Carolina Postmaster. Originally published at Save the Post Office

In forestry the practice of tree girdling is well known. Although there are some circumstances where this can be a useful practice, in most cases the technique is used for nefarious ends. Girdling involves removing the bark and layers below the bark, usually around the trunk of the tree. The cut, when it includes the entire circumference of the tree, makes it impossible for the tree to heal itself and everything above the cut will eventually die. In forests where logging is limited to dying or diseased trees, loggers will girdle healthy trees to kill them and make them available for harvest.

For at least the last fifty years, the right wing has been girdling the post office and the postal network in the hope of undermining its health and thereby reaping a financial harvest. The very people who have been charged with caring for and sustaining the Postal Service have instead repeatedly cut services, saddled the institution with requirements that undermine its ability to function, and denigrated the value of the network.

Louis DeJoy and Robert Duncan are the latest in the long line of postal girdlers. But they have taken their game to a higher level and for what are clearly political reasons. Both are products of the president that appointed them and both evidence their benefactor’s outright mendacity. They have made it clear that regardless of the law, public necessity, or public opinion, their goal is to cut postal operations. The recent OIG report reviewed here at STPO  demonstrates that clearly.

DeJoy and Duncan are political men doing political deeds. Both have engaged in major fundraising for the Republican Party and both have been active and vocal in partisan politics. That their deeds in their current positions as Postmaster General and chairman of the postal Board of Governors are political should be obvious to anyone with even a scintilla of common sense.

But to borrow from Shakespeare, I come not to criticize DeJoy and Duncan but to bury them. Having chosen to serve political goals rather than the American public during a national crisis, they have proven themselves unfit. They lack the competence and foresight required to administer an essential national infrastructure. They have to go. 

Come November 3rd whatever political support and license they have will likely be gone. The issue then becomes how to mitigate the damage they have done.

The Biden transition team should issue a statement that makes it clear that postal reform will be a priority. Congress should create a transitional postal management structure tasked with restoring service and stabilizing the network. This can be accomplished quickly by inserting language, probably in a stimulus bill, amending Title 39 with respect to the postal Board of Governors and the Postmaster General. This will allow Congress and the President to replace the PMG and the Board as soon as possible.

In addition to creating a transitional management team to see the Postal Service through a real reform process, Congress should include sufficient funds to stabilize postal finances. They also should begin the reform process by directing the Postal Regulatory Commission to begin a thorough review of the universal service obligation with a specific mandate to describe the USO broadly in the context of a network serving as infrastructure.

In my declaration before Judge Marrero in the Jones lawsuit I offered a framework for how we should approach universal service and the postal network. That framework should serve as a starting point for creating a clear commitment to universal service:

Within the context of the USPS, we often return to the words “binding the nation together”. We do so because they speak to the fundamental wisdom of the Founding Fathers. They understood that a healthy and robust post was an integral part in the physical, commercial, and intellectual infrastructure of the nation. From that first principle, from that grand idea we are able to articulate the essential truth embodied in the concept of the universal service obligation. There is a profound truth in the concept of universal service, there is an understanding that a successful democracy relies on our ability to provide equal access to all our citizens. Further this truth leads us to an understanding of the essential role of government in providing universal, neutral infrastructure which fosters and facilitates growth that benefits all the citizens of the country.

If you have followed the Postal Service and discussions of postal policy for the last ten years or longer, you’ve gotten used to seeing statements about postal losses and liabilities. Mr. DeJoy has tried to justify his attacks on service by focusing on the financial condition of the Postal Service. The problem with that argument, as it always has been, is that it based on false assumptions and manufactured imperatives. Quoting again from my affidavit in Jones:

The financial challenges that face the Postal Service today are, at heart, manufactured, the result of dysfunctional Congressional oversight and a myopic postal management that seeks at every turn to undermine the very basis for its existence. The postal network we have developed over generations provides not only mail delivery but an essential governmental presence in every community and corner of the nation. This network, which should be viewed as an asset rather than simply as overbuilt industrial capacity, truly has served to bind the nation together. Dissolving and dismantling this important piece of our national infrastructure would be a tragic mistake.

The Postal Service has been saddled with an unreasonable burden and expectation – the idea that this essential national infrastructure should be self-sustaining. This idea arises from the false conception that everything in this country, including government and the infrastructures that serve all Americans, should behave like a corporation. These corporatizers have only one tool — the hammer of privatization — and they treat everything as if it were a nail.

Free markets and business models are not synonymous with efficiency and sustainability. Sometimes government does it better. The public administration of national assets and infrastructures can level the playing field and enhance opportunity and participation in the economy. Despite what some ideologues would have us believe, this is not socialism. It is just common sense and the wisdom of experience.

Thankfully the American public and some in the media have come to understand the importance of a national postal network. Reporting on the Postal Service no longer begins and ends with a blind acceptance of the false narrative about “unsustainable” liabilities and losses. Folks are waking up to the idea of the importance of a robust national postal network supported by a strong and broad commitment to universal service.

It’s time to stop girdling the Postal Service. We need to take the concept of “binding the nation together” to heart. A well-conceived and well-supported postal network offers sustenance to the American economy.

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